Land Structure & Bogey Of Land Reforms in Kashmir

All these seventy odd years since 1947 we have been reminded time and again that massive land reforms have been carried out in Jammu and Kashmir under different dispensations particularly under the leadership of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. But a close examination of the facts reveal it is a big farce. A historical context given hereunder may reveal the real picture to the reader who is entitled to his own self determination.

•       Only the “pious” shall have the land; ancient Kashmiri religious scripture, some 2500 years old. Followed in letter and spirit all along without interruption.

•       Recent studies suggest that Kashmir was inhabited some 14000 years back when languages were evolving among humans and probably our language evolved with its own distinct syntax and grammar.

•       5000 years back we see settled pockets of population at Burzohoma and other places in Kashmir and if we see the artefacts of the era at SPS museum we have retained at least some of its characteristics.

•       2500 years or so back we see the first group of Aryan invaders with its own established hierarchical structure occupying the land. One leading figure among the occupying force at some point of time is Kashyapa and from this occupier the land gets its name. Irony is, we are in 2018 and still having  this discourse that he was a sage who drained Kashmir of its waters through some magic ignoring the role of geological forces at play.

•       All resources, and land being the primary source, are vested in this “pious/ priestly” class/ establishment that constitutes about 3 percent of the population with the ruler/ state being the nominal owner. Some held this land in the name of agraharas/ religious endowments.

•       This elite sociopolitical feudal class/ establishment extracts between one half to two thirds of the agricultural produce from the wretched peasantry as taxes etc.

•       The sociopolitical hierarchy is enforced religiously and ruthlessly and any challenges whatsoever to this social order are crushed with brute force.

•       In 1320 Rinchan and in 1339 Shah Mir occupies Kashmir and Salateen Rule begins. Some rules of inheritance take shape and at least interse peasants protect their occupancy/ tenancy of cultivable lands. Some private ownership and rights to transfer are as well seen at least in the city of Srinagar. But overall ownership of the land vests with the state/ ruler.

•       1586 Akbar occupies Kashmir and his settlement/ bandobust is carried to some degree in Kashmir as well. Security of tenancy is guaranteed to some extent but extraction in the name of taxes/ revenue collection doesn’t change much. A similar story continues during the Afghan rule.

•       1818. Khalsa State occupies Kashmir. Collection of revenue/ taxes/ produce from the peasantry continues with equal ferocity and by some estimates Kashmir yielded revenue worth Rs. 68.00 lacs in 1845.

Despite such huge revenue collection of Rs. 68.00 lacs in 1845 Kashmir is “sold” to Ghulab Singh for only Rs. 75.00 lacs in 1846 for times to come by the British. Obviously there was illegal gratification by the British officials. Ghulab Singh despite this handsome bargain claims that he had got “two thirds of barren land” and the “valley” for too huge a sum and therefore, was in a rush to extract the same at all costs from the peasantry in particular. There is at least one event where he got two men peeled live for not paying taxes in Rajouri publicly to bring home his intentions and method. 

•       Despite such huge revenue collection of Rs. 68.00 lacs in 1845 Kashmir is “sold” to Ghulab Singh for only Rs. 75.00 lacs in 1846 for times to come by the British. Obviously there was illegal gratification by the British officials.

•       Ghulab Singh despite this handsome bargain claims that he had got “two thirds of barren land” and the “valley” for too huge a sum and therefore, was in a rush to extract the same at all costs from the peasantry in particular. There is at least one event where he got two men peeled live for not paying taxes in Rajouri publicly to bring home his intentions and method.

•       Revenue/ produce collection is made through dreadful agents and officials across the length and breadth of the state and we see whispers of protest by the missionaries working in Kashmir.

•       1885. British Residency is established in Srinagar and tiny steps towards ” land reform” are initiated but still the thrust is on maximising revenue.

•       1887. Andrew Wingate is appointed as the first Settlement Officer.

•       Wingate is in for a shock as the peasant was being treated as a rice/ shali producing machine to feed a particular social class and the city population and “when the harvest was too little to feed both, the city ought to be supplied by any force and his children left to starve.”

•       1888. Wingate recommends giving hereditary transferable “occupancy rights” to peasants on the lands they are cultivating.

•       Wingate is removed through “intrigue” at the hands of the sociopolitical establishment and Walter Lawrence is appointed in his place.

•       1894/5. Walter Lawrence works with the establishment and recommends conferring of hereditary occupancy rights without rights of transfer/ ownership.

•       1898: Non transferable occupancy rights are given to peasants cultivating state/ Khalsa land subject to regular payment of assessment and these peasants become “registered” serfs.

•       State/ Khalsa land is only a portion of the available land as vast tracts of land are given to henchmen as Jagirs/ chaks all over the state that are cultivated by another set of peasants whose condition was worse than bonded labour.

•       1932. On the recommendations of Glancy Commission transfer of occupancy rights is allowed upto 25 percent of the peasant’s holding. Again it is with respect to state lands only.

•       1948: 9000 henchmen each with 22.75 acres and more “own” collectively 40 percent i.e; 8 lac acres of land out of 20 lac acres in Jammu and Kashmir. This was exclusive of orchards, fuel and fodder reserves.

•       These henchmen had obtained these lands through treachery, fraud and deceit and have sucked the blood of the peasants and subject them to abject misery and pain and therefore, their claim to these lands was obnoxious, immoral and definitely illegal particularly when the “regime” had been toppled by a peoples’ revolution.

•       1950: Big Landed Estates Abolition Act is passed that allows each one of these Jageerdars to retain 22.75 acres of land besides orchards, fuel and fodder reserves and other uncultivated land. Thus in the name of land reform the follies and the plunder of these beneficiaries is legitimised in one single stroke. Thanks to Sheikh Sahib and Co.

•       Reasons are not that difficult to imagine. After all many of these henchmen had shifted their allegiance to the new dispensation and were even able to find a place in the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly and all subsequent assemblies.

•       1948/1962: With regard to landlords with less than 22.75 acres of land they were allowed to resume the lands from various tenants subject to certain limits again legitimising their loot and exploitation in the name of “land reform”.

•       1957/1963/1967: Janki Nath Wazir Committee, Mir Qasim  and Gajndragadkar Commissions are appointed to examine the issues of further “land reform”.

•       1968:  The Commissions submit their recommendations.

•       1972: JK Agrarian Reforms Act is enacted to be replaced by JK Agrarian Reforms Act 1976. These acts reduced the ceiling limit to 12 and a half acres per person and transfer of land to tenants but with an option to the landlord to resume some land and some compensation/ levy to be paid by the tenant/ peasant to the landlord.

•       Again we see under the garb of land reform the past crimes of the henchmen being legitimised by granting them some rights of resumption and compensation.

•       1978. Sheikh Sahib by an amendment takes “orchards” out of the purview of ceiling and transfer to tenants. It delegitimised the claim of tenants to orchard lands even when the Land Commission had shown huge area of orchard land under perpetual possession of tenants/ peasants.

•       Applying ceiling of 12.5 acres per person required consolidation of revenue record of the whole Jammu and Kashmir as it was possible only after that to find out who owned more than 12.5 acres. The fact remains that despite a lapse of 42 years no such consolidation has taken place. Consequently no signification land in excess of the ceiling has vested in the state and these henchmen continue to own and posses land in far excess of the ceiling.

•       Let us keep on beating the drums of having carried out land reform since 1947. Why not? The “pious” still have the land.

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Ali Malik

Author is an astute Kashmir observer with an interest in and stamina to correct the wrongs of the history.

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